Table of Contents
- Mesopotamia is a region in southwest Asia where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are.
- It had good weather and geography to support one of the first human civilisations.
- Mesopotamia made many important inventions such as time, math, boats with sails, maps, and writing.
Ancient Mesopotamia: The Cradle of Civilization
Thousands of years ago, people settled down in the fertile crescent because it was easy to farm there. In Mesopotamia, people developed agriculture, and some became employed in other ways. Keep reading to learn more Ancient Mesopotamia facts.
Mesopotamia is a place in Iraq. It’s between two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. The Middle East is where people have lived for a long time. People called the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers “the cradle of civilisation.”
Civilisation began in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys because this area had a lot of resources, such as plants that grew well there and animals to hunt.
In spring, the rivers would fill up and overflow. When the water went away, there was dirt left rich in many nutrients that plants need to grow.
City-states in Ancient Mesopotamia
Around 3500 BCE, cities started to form in southern Mesopotamia. These were the first cities in this area. They had certain things that they all had in common.
There were farmers in the city-states. The farmers grew crops and kept animals. Most people in the city-states worked as farmers.
The Mesopotamians created the first cities. One of their most important inventions was this.
Cities were built during the Uruk period. This happened when small communities started doing well and attracted people from nearby regions who weren’t doing as well.
Mesopotamian cities were safe. They protected people from the elements, natural predators, and robbers. People who lived there could make a better living than they would elsewhere.
In the beginning, cities were a good thing because they helped people. But after a while, the cities grew and used up all of their resources.
Many cities in Mesopotamia were thought to have been destroyed by wars. But later, archaeologists found that they were abandoned because there was no more food or water there.
Each city-state had a ruler, and the ruler was chief of the gods, and he ruled on behalf of the gods. He helped with the government.
Kings were the leaders of armies. They led them to battle. Sometimes they made peace too.
Queens were also essential. They helped to make decisions. In Mesopotamia, a queen wore a golden headdress. The headdress was made to look like leaves from a tree.
The Sumerians invented the wheeled vehicle and the wheel, among other things.
Ashurbanipal was the king of the Neo-Assyrian empire. At the time of his reign, it was the largest empire in the world and stretched from Cyprus to Iran.
Its capital was Nineveh in modern-day Iraq. It was the world’s largest city. Ashurbanipal said of himself that he was king of the world.
Ashurbanipal learned a lot, and he liked to study. He also wanted to tell people about his studies and how smart he was.
Ashurbanipal wanted to collect all the books that were worth having. He sent his people worldwide to gather knowledge and every book they found.
The Assyrian king Ashurbanipal used a stylus in his belt when he was in the palace, along with his sword.
Ancient Mesopotamia: Cuneiform Writing
The invention of cuneiform writing was perhaps the Mesopotamian region’s most significant innovation. It is one of the earliest languages that people wrote down.
Scientists have found evidence that people in ancient Mesopotamia were using cuneiform. The earliest evidence was found in the important city of Uruk.
Cuneiform means “wedge-shaped”. People who could write in Mesopotamia used a stylus that was cut from reeds to make shapes on tablets of clay.
Pictures were used to represent objects in the form of writing. Cuneiform was used for writing about offerings that people would give to gods, like bags of grain.
Mesopotamians had ways to record ideas and objects. They set down treaties, contracts, prayers, and stories.
Only certain people were taught how to read and write. Often, these people were men. Sometimes women could do that too.
The Code of Hammurabi
Besides Sumer, Mesopotamia was also home to other city-states. One of these cities was Babylon, which was north of Sumer.
Babylon’s king, Hammurabi, attacked and conquered many cities to establish the Babylonian Empire.
Hammurabi wrote a code which was called “The Code of Hammurabi”. It helped bring order to the vast territory.
Hammurabi had 282 laws. He made them more organised, so they were easier to find. They were not new laws, but Hammurabi was responsible for making them easier to find.
Hammurabi had the laws written down. There was no question about what they said. He did this so that all people in his empire would know what these laws were, even if they were very diverse in who they were and where they lived.
As king, Hammurabi’s job was to make sure that the law was enforced.
The purpose of writing down the laws was to protect people and stop influential people from taking advantage of weaker people.
Women in Mesopotamia
It is important to know that women had rights in Mesopotamian civilisation.
Women could be priestesses. Women could also own land and businesses. All women learned to make cloth by spinning and weaving.
Enheduanna was a priestess and also a poet. She helped her father’s empire grow in Sumer. She is the first author we know by name because we found her writings!
She is best known for her three great hymns to the goddess Inanna.
- The Great-Hearted Mistress
- The Exaltation of Inanna
- Goddess of the Fearsome Powers
Enheduanna also wrote 42 poems and hymns about her feelings. They were very popular and influenced people’s work in later times, such as in the Bible when Enheduanna’s poems and hymns were used.
Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia
The ancient Mesopotamians had religious beliefs and practices. These beliefs and practices were important in their lives.
Our ancestors were curious about the world. In ancient Mesopotamia, people told myths. They made up stories to explain what they saw. Some of these stories are still told today.
According to Mesopotamian religious beliefs, storms were caused by the god Ishkur. Other gods lived in each city.
Each city’s temple was built for the god or goddess of that city. In the temple, priests made food every day.
People used to go to temples to pray. They went there because they wanted the gods and goddesses to answer their prayers.
Babylon was the richest city in Mesopotamia. This beautiful gate was built to honour the goddess of love and war.
The Story of Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh was a half-god, and he helped protect the people of Uruk by building its walls and by fighting. The story of King Gilgamesh is that he was so strong that he could defeat a lion.
The earliest writings about Gilgamesh were found in cuneiform on clay tablets. Historians now believe that the Gilgamesh myths are based on a king who lived in ancient Mesopotamia.
Ancient Mesopotamia: The Ziggurats
People in Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria built huge temples called ziggurats.
People believe that there was either a shrine to the greatest god or the location of an area designed for astronomical observation. Scholars think that they could see all around when they were on top of the ziggurats.
We don’t know for sure if all the ziggurats are gone. They may have come from older shrines built higher than the ground.
The Great Ziggurat of Ur
Ur-Nammu built this large structure. It was dedicated to the god of the moon, Nanna/Sin.
It is a three-layer rectangular building without any rooms or chambers. There are three staircases, one in the front and one on each side. The sides of the building are aligned from north to south and east to west.
It was built with sun-baked mud bricks. It has protection made of baked bricks that keep it safe.
This temple was also called the Temple of Marduk. Some people think it is where the Tower of Babel was built.
Etemenaki was a ziggurat in Babylon. Each colour is a different layer. The top probably had ramps to get up there.
Sargon II was an Assyrian king. Sargon II built a ziggurat in Dur Sharrukin, which is now Khorsabad.
There are four layers left of the temple. The bottom layer is white, then black, red, and finally white or blue.
Sumerian artists were skilled in making sculptures of people. They made them from different pieces. There are some examples from the tombs at Ur that you can see now.
This type of craftsmanship can be seen on a Mesopotamian harp with gold. A bull’s head is also put on the harp. The head wears lapis lazuli jewellery around its beard.
People in Mesopotamia liked to decorate their buildings with relief sculptures. Relief sculptures are when you make a picture on the wall of a building.
These reliefs had pictures of hunting and fighting. They had horses and lions, too.
People look like statues. They are not as detailed as animals.
Among the most famous works of art are the lion-hunt statues of Assurnasirpal II and Assurbanipal. People say whether these statues should go back to their original place in the Middle East.
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